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'Mo' leadership just what the Utah Jazz needed

Mo Williams has improved his game since his first stint with the Utah Jazz in 2003 with a double-figure scoring average.
Mo Williams has improved his game since his first stint with the Utah Jazz in 2003 with a double-figure scoring average.
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — With such a young Utah Jazz team featuring several players who are still in their early 20s with limited NBA experience, one thing this ballclub can definitely use is more leadership.

Make that Mo leadership.

Yes, with nine-year NBA veteran Mo Williams taking over as the Jazz starting point guard this season, that's one thing that everybody from head coach Ty Corbin all the way down to the ball boy are counting upon heavily: Mo's leadership.

"He's a leader," Corbin said Thursday morning following the first two days of training camp in preparation for the 2012-2013 campaign. "He's a leader, he's an attacker. He's a great communicator with the guys on the floor in a good way, and they seem to listen and follow what he's saying."

With a roster that features four key contributors from last season — Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter — who are all between the ages of 20 and 22, the Jazz need someone to step up and take on that responsibility.

And it's a role that Williams, who came to the Jazz as part of a four-team trade last June, certainly won't shy away from.

"It's just me; it's just my personality," said Williams, who spent the 2003-2004 season with the Jazz, then landed a free-agent deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and has also spent time in his career playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers. "I've been a guy, especially in the NBA, that's had to work hard and kind of grind to get what I deserve, so I always try to help people when I can, because I know what it takes.

"I know sometimes it gets tough and it feels like it's unfair, but you can't hold your head. You've just got to continue to go hard and play hard, because nobody's gonna feel sorry for you. So I try to get that message across as much as possible."

Nobody's gonna feel sorry for you? Quickly now, who does that sound like?

If you said former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, the guy who was running the show when Williams was selected by Utah in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft, give yourself a pat on the back for being exactly right.

Sloan is a guy that Williams has the utmost respect for, and Williams feels that Corbin — who was an assistant under Sloan for seven seasons before Sloan abruptly retired in March 2011 — possesses a lot of the same admirable qualities as his Hall of Fame former boss.

"I've got a lot of respect for this organization, I've got a lot of respect for obviously for Jerry and Phil (Johnson) and Gordie (Chiesa), the other coach that was here when I was here before," Williams said. "Those guys I love dearly and they helped my career a lot. They got it jump-started and, without them, I wouldn't be in the position that I am today."

In the summer of 2004, Williams was working out with the Jazz in preparation for possibly playing in the Rocky Mountain Revue when the Bucks came calling with a lucrative free-agent offer he couldn't refuse.

But he got acquainted at that time with Corbin, who joined the Jazz coaching staff that summer, and now they find themselves working toward the same goal: trying to make the Jazz a better team.

"We spent part of that summer together," Williams said. "I didn't get to know him really well, but we (were) together at the gym and when you've got two-a-days, you get to know a coach. We stayed in touch and, when we saw each other over the years, we always spoke to each other — not knowing that we would get back to this point."

"He's very straightforward, which I love," Williams said of Corbin. "I love a straightforward coach who's not scared to tell people what's on his mind and what's right or wrong. I think that's the best way to get a message across, regardless (of) even if it's positive or negative. But at the same time, he'll pick you up, too, and I think that's more important.

"That's one thing I loved about Jerry. People can say all they want about him cussing and whining and all that, but one thing he'd do is he'd pick you up. He'd tell you when you'd do something good, and he's the best cheerleader. I think Ty has all those qualities — he's been around Jerry a lot — and he's going to correlate that to what we're doing now."

Corbin certainly likes what he sees in Williams, who has averaged double-digit scoring every year he's been in the league since leaving the Jazz, including three straight seasons of 17-plus points.

Over the last six seasons, Williams has averaged between 13.2 and 17.8 points per game, plus more than five assists per game in four of those seasons even though he wasn't always his team's starter.

Corbin also appreciates what the feisty 6-foot-1 point guard brings to the Jazz ballclub, and the improvements Mo has made in his game since that summer they spent working together eight years ago.

"I like his speed and the way that he can navigate guys on the floor," Corbin said. "He sees things early and advances the ball and then makes a play off that, so he gives us a little bit more versatility. He's got more confidence now. His shooting has gotten better, more consistent, and he's a very good 3-point shooter with his feet set.

"He's a better one-on-one attacker than he was at that point; he was more of a controlled guy back then because he was feeling his way through it," the Jazz coach said of the 2004 version of Williams. "But now, he knows what he's doing and has a good feel for when to go, when to pull back, when to get other guys involved and who to go to in different situations."

Jazz big man Al Jefferson likes the way Williams has come in and, in his first training camp with the team, immediately taken charge.

"Mo's a great leader, man," Jefferson said. "He just got here and he's already the voice of the team. He's a guy that knows what it takes to win; he's got a winning attitude, he's going to push us.

"The GM and the front office, they did a great job this offseason bringing the guys in," he said of Utah's acquisitions of Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye.

Mo Williams, who'll turn 30 in December, mentioned three key ingredients he brings to the ballclub.

"I bring toughness, and obviously I spread the floor and can shoot the ball, and leadership. I think those three things kind of categorize me," he said.

And unlike some NBA players who have shunned the state in the past, he's glad to be back in Utah.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's good to be back. I feel at home here. I've always followed how they did and stayed in touch with people over the years. This is the organization that drafted me, so when you draft a player, you go and look at their background and you know everything about them, so there's nothing that they don't know about me."

And there's one thing the Jazz certainly seem to know about him now: They're a better team with him than they were without him.